Republican V.I. Sen. Anne Golden has asked some of her party comrades in Congress to reconsider a vote that shot down millions of dollars of education funding for the territory.
Last week the House Education and Workforce Committee rejected an amendment to reauthorize the Territorial General Education Assistance program so the V.I. and Guam could receive $6 million a year for the next five years. The money would be used for school construction, repair, curriculum development, teacher training and remedial education.
After the vote, V.I. Delegate to Congress Donna Christian-Christensen said that the amendment, offered on behalf of the V.I. and Guam by a Democrat, was rejected along "party lines."
Christensen said the committees move wasnt unexpected because, since Congress began voting on H.R. 4141, a broad-based education programs bill, no amendments offered by Democrats were being accepted. Christensen also said the committees chairman, Rep. Bill Goodling (R-Pa.), didnt reply to her letters about the amendment.
Golden has since written to the 27 Republican representatives who sit on the committee, asking them to reconsider their votes. In the letter sent Tuesday, Golden explained the plight of the approximately 20,000 students in the V.I. public school system.
"Our education system is on the verge of collapse and our infrastructure needs our immediate attention," Golden wrote. "The mass exodus of teachers to the United States mainland due to the embarrassingly low salaries is compromising our ability to offer our children a quality education this fall.
"In short, my friends, our children are in serious jeopardy of a fundamental right to a quality education."
The Territorial General Assistance program was originally authorized in 1978 and received approximately $5 million a year until it was last reauthorized for five years in 1994. Under rules of Congress, programs must first be authorized before funding can be provided for them. Because of accountability problems associated with program funds in the territory, no money has been provided since 1994.
Golden said her colleagues in the V.I. Senate are working to reduce the cost of the local government but "we cannot make the necessary adjustments without the continued support of the federal government."
She asked the Republican committee members to "each reconsider your vote and that you again offer this very crucial amendment."
According to Christensen, the next opportunity to have the amendment offered is when the entire bill is brought up for a vote by the full House.
Meanwhile, in an effort to infuse the public school system with funding, Sen. President Vargrave Richards has urged V.I. Education Commissioner Ruby Simmonds to tap federal education initiatives. He said the Safe Schools, Healthy Students Initiative could provide millions of dollars of funding for the territory.
Richards said the initiative provides $40 million in grants for school districts that come up with "innovative and successful strategies to reach out to troubled young people."
Another grant opportunity could provide more than $60 million for police officers to mentor students and teach conflict resolution. A third possibility would provide $20 million for counseling programs in elementary schools.
"We must do everything possible to bring monies and opportunities to our schools, especially when programs allow us to develop early intervention strategies," Richards said. "Our schools and, more urgently, our students are facing serious challenges."